The future is now.
Alright, we’ve heard the standard sports cliche regarding young prospects growing into their own and winning games. How often does it actually happen though? Even if lightning strikes, the expected consistency is often misguided. Young talent is balanced with veteran experience to form a dominant force, correct?
Yesterday’s baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees was a glimpse at what young talent can do. The question for the Jays is: can they continue to be great on their own?
While being a part of the Labour Day weekend, Saturday’s game at the Rogers Centre drew over 45, 800 people to watch the Yankees start Michael Pineda against Blue Jays’ young starter, Drew Hutchison. While Pineda’s laughable issues with foreign substances and not-so-humorous injury problems made for compelling television, the right-hander had thrown for a 2-3 record with only a 2.09 ERA, making him still a fairly dangerous pitcher to face. Hutchison needed to come up big like he did recently against the Tampa Bay Rays, where he only gave up one run in six innings.
Jose Bautista knows what it is like being a young talent, trying to prove himself. Seems like every day he has to prove himself to opposing teams, his own fans, and the Toronto media. Some fans and baseball experts have expressed the notion that the Blue Jays brass needed to trade Bautista while the iron was still hot on his career. Instead of taking a backseat and looking elsewhere for another team who wants him, Bautista said with his words that he wants to stay and lead this team. He confirmed that sentiment with his bat, hitting his fourth home run in four games in the bottom of the first inning. The massive shot blasted over the left field fence, scoring Jose Reyes to take a two-run lead.
If you call that veteran leadership, the Blue Jays’ young talent are starting to follow it up with their command by example.
Hutchison looked great on the mound, making the experienced Yankees lineup look a bit older than they wanted. Many of their bats were fishing for pitches seemingly without any bait. The ball would escape the strikezone with heavy movement that some Yankees seemed surprised to see. In fact, the only real trouble Hutchison faced was in the fourth inning.
After striking out Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter, the Jays pitcher barely grazed the elbow pad of Carlos Beltran with an inside pitch. Mark Teixeira then doubled to center field, moving Beltran to third. The pressure may have gotten to Hutchison a bit as he hit Brain McCann right in the back, who proceeded to do “The Dorn” from the movie Major League, flinching and slowly making his way to load the bases. However, Hutchison composed himself and got Martin Prado to fly out to center field, where Kevin Pillar has been having an excellent two days’ worth of incredible diving catches. Hutchison finished his performance with 7 complete innings, giving up only 1 hit, 2 walks, and 9 strikeouts.
Aaron Sanchez kept the youth movement running smoothly in the bottom of the eighth inning. The even-younger pitcher threw for two innings of shutout baseball, while striking out three batters on the way to the first save of his career.
Blue Jays manager, John Gibbons was thrilled with his young pitchers, especially Hutchison. “It’s tough to get any better than he was today,” said Gibbons in the post-game interview. Not intending to refer to veteran pitcher Mark Buehrle, Gibbons also said that the sign of a great pitcher is to perform at their best even when tired. “That kind of tells you what kinda stuff a guy has too, you know? You get a little tired but you can still dominate or be very effective.” After Buehrle’s good six innings of work leading to disaster in the seventh, he referred to his possible aging and missing spots because of fatigue, making Gibbons’ words about Hutchison interesting yet likely unintentional to any possible backhanded comment. Maybe the wily veterans can learn to change their own games to execute longer. Maybe the older bullpen members can keep their heads to be more efficient, instead of looking their age.
On Aaron Sanchez, Gibbons said, “We think the sky’s the limit with the kid.” He expressed how the Jays staff do not want to burn Sanchez or any of the young pitchers out, yet wanting to give them experience so that they can be ready to win ballgames.
As much as Bautista’s bombs over the fences would normally strike the Toronto faithful into a frenzy, this game should and does belong to Hutchison and the future of the Blue Jays pitching staff. Instead of depending on wind-piercing fastball velocity or putting balls in play, Hutchison could mix it up, leading to a fairly even number of groundouts, flyouts, and strikeouts. He doesn’t need to depend on one pitch or one type of batting strategy to get opposing lineups out, unlike some other more experienced pitchers do. He is a complete pitcher who needs to build on this success to show consistency in the win column. Hutchison now stands with a 9-11 record in 2014.
There is one last thing that needs to change if the Blue Jays management and fans want to win more games. It’s about time that the media and everyone else stops referring to the Blue Jays’ young talent as ‘the kids’ or ‘the Bisons’. Hutchison was the better man, not boy, today. Sanchez looked incredible saving the game, when older pitchers blew saves and continue to bleed runs in pressure situations. These men are not the future, learning from the veterans; they are Blue Jays, full members of this team, who are learning and leading with the elder statesmen to win as a unified group. We all need to stop segregating them as future stars and keep them confident in their skills right now. Age is just a number.